Down East 2013 ©
Down-bound: The Maine Sunday Telegram is shedding readers at an unprecedented pace. According to its annual Statement of Ownership and Circulation filed with the U.S. Postal Service and published in the October 3 edition, the Telegram, which once boasted weekly sales well in excess of 125,000 copies, is down to a paid circulation of less than 75,000.
Here are the hard – and ugly – numbers: Last year, the Sunday paper reported to the Postal Service that it sold an average of 92,070 copies per week. This year, that figure is 74,346, a drop-off of more than nineteen percent.
By comparison, from 2007 to 2008, the Telegram lost less than four percent of its readers, declining from just over 100,000 papers sold each week to 96,520. From 2008 to 2009, about five percent of its customers vanished.
If the new numbers are accurate (the Audit Bureau of Circulations had Telegram circulation at 82,979 in its March report covering 2009, although the ABC standards for measuring circulation are significantly different from the Postal Service’s), they should be cause for panic at MaineToday Media, the Telegram’s parent company. On several occasions over the past year, MaineToday CEO Richard Connor has stated that the steady circulation declines under the paper’s old owner, the Blethen family, had been halted.
“Today, MaineToday Media is profitable and growing,” Connor wrote in a column published in the Telegram on June 27. “Our newspapers are thriving.” Later in the piece, he wrote, “Circulation has begun to stabilize and will start to grow again by midsummer.”
Figures for the other MaineToday papers are due out in October, as well. They should give a clearer picture of whether the Telegram numbers are a trend or an anomaly.
By comparison, not bad: The Lewiston Sun Journal’s Sunday edition also posted its circulation figures in its October 3 edition. While the numbers weren’t anything to brag about, they weren’t nearly as bad as those of its bigger neighbor to the south.
The Lewiston Sunday paper had an average paid circulation over the past year of 29,082, according to the Postal Service filing. That’s off by about 4.5 percent from the 30,435 copies it sold each week in 2009.
It’s also in keeping with the losses from previous years. The average number of copies sold dropped a little more than three percent from 2008 to 2009 and just over four percent from 2007 to 2008.
The high-water mark for the Sun Journal’s Sunday circulation came in the mid-1980s, when the paper routinely sold more than 45,000 copies each week.
Re-spinning the Web: MaineToday Media State House reporter Rebekah Metzler did a solid job  on Oct. 3 in uncovering the complicated story behind the Maine Watchdog Web site’s controversial posting on Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s use of her fiancée’s corporate jet. 
Metzler lays out the background on the Watchdog’s conservative political bias and how it appears to have skewed its coverage, and she does it in a way I’d describe as fair and balanced – if that phrase didn’t have implications of its own.
One small bit of irony: Metzler quotes her executive editor, Scott Wasser, in the story. Wasser blathers on about the superiority of newspaper journalism over that offered by bloggers, but he has nothing to say about Pingree’s use of corporate perks without disclosing them to her constituents.
Perhaps that’s because Wasser regularly reviews new cars for the Sunday Telegram and other papers  without ever explaining where he gets those vehicles and whether he pays for their use.
Off color: A caption from page D1 of the October 4 edition of the Bangor Daily News:
“A photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2007 shows Jupiter and its moon Ganymede in close to natural colors.”
The photo is printed in black and white.
The paper did manage to get it right online .
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .